What is Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)?
Xerostomia is the medical term for dry mouth (also called dry mouth syndrome) due to shortage of saliva. When saliva levels are reduced, food debris, salivary proteins and mucous inside the mouth become very concentrated and this encourages bacteria to reproduce very quickly, particularly in certain areas of the mouth, such as the back of the tongue.
Therefore, dry mouth and bad breath usually go hand in hand, which means that in order to avoid bad breath, it is vital that saliva levels are at optimum levels at all times.
We all suffer from xerostomia every now and then; for instance, when we are extremely anxious or nervous. Another example is dry mouth in the morning, which causes “morning breath” (caused by keeping the mouth open when sleeping, by dehydration and reduced levels of oxygen).
However, dry mouth and bad breath can become a serious condition if it develops into a chronic problem, and that needs to be looked at. Saliva has very important functions, including PH control, removal of food debris and antimicrobial properties so it is important that mouth lubrication is kept at optimal levels whenever possible.
Dry Mouth Symptoms:
One of the most noticeable symptoms of xerostomia is bad breath. However, there are other ways to identify the condition. Common symptoms of dry mouth (apart from halitosis) are:
- Pasty mouth (sticky feeling)
- Pasty mouth (sticky feeling)
- Difficulty to speak, chew and swallow
- Burning sensation in the mouth
- Inability to taste
- Frequent cavities (tooth decay)
- Frequent sore throat
- Frequent cracked or inflamed lips
- Frequent mouth ulcers
- Frequent mouth infections, such as thrush
- Swollen or painful tongue
- Inability to wear dentures
It is estimated that the average adult produces around three pints of saliva daily. When the output of saliva is considerably reduced xerostomia occurs. Some studies estimate that around 30% of adults over 65 suffer from a certain degree of xerostomia, with medication being the main cause (see below).
Causes of Xerostomia:
- Breathing through the mouth
- Anxiety or stress
- Consumption of alcoholic beverages and/or diuretics
- Regular use of medicines that can have dry mouth as a side effect:
- Regular use of illegal drugs (and lifestyle associated with it):
- Suffering from any of the following medical conditions (which can damage/impair certain glands that produce saliva):
- Undergoing any of these treatments:
- Regular use of mouthwashes with a high percentage of alcohol
Medication for high blood pressure
Systemic Lupus Erythematosis
Poorly controlled Diabetes
Radiotherapy for head and neck
Note on Xerostomia and Dental Decay:
Dental decay is usually associated with xerostomia sufferers because larger than normal amounts of acid are produced in a dry mouth, when sugar is consumed. This can speed up the process of dental decay, and this is why many people who suffer from dry mouth are very prone to caries. Both dry mouth and caries are causes of bad breath, hence the importance to tackle both.
Your doctor will examine your mouth and the quantity, appearance and texture of your oral mucosa. You will be asked about any other symptoms, so remember to mention all that apply (see above). If considered appropriate, your doctor can arrange for some blood tests or scans to be done. These include a sialometry, a sialography or a biopsy.
This pretty much summarises what xerostomia is, and how to identify the most common dry mouth symptoms. Xerostomia causes have also been discussed, and how this condition can be diagnosed. Dry mouth and bad breath are connected, so in order to keep halitosis at bay, you need to make sure you get appropriate treatment for your xerostomia first.
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